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Friday, October 31, 2014

How Would Dirk Nowitzki’s Legacy Change if Dallas Mavericks Won the Title?

What if during the summer of LeBron, a regular season featuring Derrick Rose as MVP, and a streak of Finals between the Lakers and Celtics, it was the Dallas Mavericks who sneaked in and won the NBA Championship? Discarded as a bunch of losers and postseason chokers, could the sports world handle the Mavericks winning a title?

Dallas has been written off by most people and they’ve deserved it. Since blowing a 2-0 series lead to the Miami Heat in the ’06 Finals, the Mavericks have only won one playoff series while losing in the first round on three occasions. The glaring blemish on their list of postseason failures was a first-round series loss to the Golden State Warriors in the ’07 playoffs, the same year they had the best record in the NBA and Dirk won MVP.

Nobody I know of gave the Mavericks a shot to win it all this year. They tied the Lakers for the second-best record in the West (57-25), and had the fourth-best record in the NBA, but that was typical Dallas — good in the regular season, an easy out in the postseason. They were hardly considered a threat to do damage. But then something funny happened.

The Mavericks stood up to the Lakers, sweeping them out of the playoffs and frustrating them to the point they resorted to cheap shots. Dallas had the size to match LA, Dirk dominated Pau Gasol, and the team made most of their threes (they’ve shot 42% for the playoffs). Jason Terry has made an absurd .524% of his field goals, giving Dallas an extremely difficult combination to guard. Simply put, if they continue making shots at this pace, they won’t be stopped. Maybe Chicago or Miami has the defense to cool them off, but Dallas is looking good.

Not only are the Mavericks hot, but they’ve also shown resilience. After Brandon Roy led Portland to a 23-point comeback in Game 4, people thought that would be the antecedent to Dallas’ annual playoff collapse. But rather than packing it in, the Mavs went home and won Game 5, then came back and won Game 6 on the road to close it out. This just appears to be a different Mavericks team that is tougher mentally than they’ve shown in the past.

Now that we’re down to only four teams, the Mavericks have a 50% chance of reaching the Finals. The way they’re playing, that’s a strong possibility. So what would it do for Dirk Nowitzki’s legacy if the team seemingly came out of nowhere to win it all?

Dirk is already considered by many critics to be one of the toughest players to guard in the entire league. He’s 7-feet tall, smooth in his face-up game, and he can make three-pointers on a consistent basis. He also gets to the line around seven times per game and is an 88% free throw shooter for his career. He has an MVP, a Finals appearance, and he consistently has the Mavericks reaching the playoffs and winning 50 games per season (they’ve done it every year since 2000). But Dirk has always been considered a choke.

Maybe the first-round loss to the Warriors was a flop, and the Mavericks blew a Finals lead to the Heat. That’s undeniable, but Dirk was also good enough to help Dallas win 67 games and get his team a Finals lead against a better team. In other recent series, they’ve lost to extremely tough teams in the Western Conference — the Spurs and Hornets.

Dirk is a great player, he’s a Hall of Famer, and one of the best offensive players in the game. He’s far from elite defensively, and he hasn’t earned the respect of most fans because he hasn’t won a title (and worse yet, was there for collapses). But Dirk also manned-up during a tough time in his personal life and performed well in the playoffs two years ago.

Maybe he is tougher mentally than most people thought, and maybe he is worthy of being a champion. I don’t think Nowitzki needs a ring to validate his career, but it sure would command respect from all fans and critics if he managed to steal a ring during a year when his team was considered an afterthought.

The Mavericks as NBA champions? It could happen.



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